Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thin Pills and Junkfood

The cover of the October issue of Wired magazine and accompanying cover story on thin pills has interesting associations with the boom of activity and controversy going on around childhood obesity and it's link to fastfood and junkfood advertising. The campaign to ban advertising unhealthy foods to kids - through television and advergames - is making headlines in the US, and policy waves in the UK. Of course, the children's industries are way ahead of the game, launching new branded products that reflect real concerns as well as hyped-up fears about bad foods. Check out this story on Disney's new line of healthy foods for kids, this press release for Sesame Street/Sunkist berries, and coverage of Nickelodeon's new "fruits and veggies" product launch. What I find particularly interesting is how both of these reactions - thin pills and advertising bans - place the focus on consumer culture to provide the solution to such a significant social problem.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Comp Trading Cards

I'm currently in the process of defining my comp areas and accompanying reading lists, and as a result have been thinking a lot about different ways I might visually map out or organize the various theories and theorists I'll be reviewing over the coming months. I've considered diagrams and timelines - visual aids always really help me to work out theories and major debates - and today remembered a website I came across as an undergrad that might provide a fun and useful template for working through at least one of my areas. The site is David Gauntlett's Theory.org.uk Trading Cards, which provides a hilarious but potentially quite helpful way to keep track of your media theorists. I think this particular set was designed with 1st-year communication or media studies undergrads in mind, but I'm tempted to try it out on "social construction of technology theorists" or "play theorists", and make cards for whatever theorists fall into my comp areas. I could further colour code them according to field, school of thought, time period, theoretical position, whether I agree with their theory or not....hmmmm.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Fairies - The new "big thing"

About a year ago KidScreen Magazine predicted a big boom in "fairies" within girls' commercial culture. With the rise in popularity of Winx Club, and Barbie Fairytopia, it was just a matter of time before Disney got on board and really turned out a fad. Afterall, Disney owns the most famous fairy of all, Tinkerbell. After an initial foray into the market with a successful line of kids' books (think "Harry Potter" strategy) - designed to introduce the new line of branded fairy characters, er, I mean, Tinkerbell's "friends" - it looks as though Disney is set to replace it's successful "Princesses" brand with a fresh multimedia merchandising bonanza staring the Disney Fairies. They have of course already built an online branded environment/advergame called Pixie Hollow, that looks like a bit of a rip-off of Barbie's Everythinggirl.com, where kids can interact with the brand, get to know the characters, and register to become the unknowing subjects of market research and data-mining. On the bright side, however, I've found a new case study for my ongoing research on children's advergames.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Advergaming? Try in-game brand-reps...

I just came across this job posting in a YPulse newsletter (a marketing-to-youth industry newsletter) for a virtual world "brand manager". Yet another indication of the continuing encroachment of "advergaming" in MMOGs.

****
Manager of Virtual World Avatar

Fleishman-Hillard Youth has an immediate opening for someone to oversee an avatar on behalf of one of our clients. If you or someone you know has strong experience in virtual worlds and RPGs, and is interested in youth marketing, we want to hear from you.

Description:

- Manage an avatar in a virtual world on behalf of a corporate client
- Interact with players, answering various questions and disseminating information
- Sending email blasts to members
- Staying in continual contact with the Fleishman-Hillard team, providing updates and status reports

Qualifications:

- Excellent experience using RPGs and virtual worlds
- Ability to effectively handle in-game requests with the interests of the client in mind
- Responsible and easy to reach
- Strong communication skills
- Work schedule: 7 pm - 11 pm EST/EDT, Mon-Fri
- 3 month contract starting ASAP
- Can work remotely

Please pass this on to anyone you think would be interested.

Please contact Vanessa Lane by email (Vanessa.Lane@flei shman.com) or phone (212-453-2390)

Posted by anastasia

Kid Gamers Dominate

Matteo Bittani sent this out to the Gamesnetwork email list this morning:

"The NPD Group has created a massive 100-plus page report that finds the most serious gamers aren't in the 18 to 34-year-old age range, as many believe. Anita Frazier with NPD detailed the study for Next-Gen…
The study, whose sample is comprised of 16,670 participants between ages six and 44, found that 45 percent of the study's "heavy gamer" segment and nearly one-third of its "avid console gamer" segment (the largest group in the study) were between the youthful ages of 6 and 17. The findings contradict the wide belief that the most committed gamers fall in the coveted 18- to 34-year-old male demographic." (Next Generation)

Link to the story

Saturday, September 16, 2006

fatality666

Upon reviewing the news coverage of the Dawson's College killer yesterday (it took them approximately 18 hours to make a link to video games - yay predictable new media!), I realized that the vast majority of news outlets are using the images the killer posted himself, of himself, on his online journal. The constructed nature of these pictures disturbs me - he obviously spent a lot of time posing and dressing for these pics, creating a gallery within vampirefreaks.com that he thought his peers would respond to. But more than that, with the knowledge of what he was planning to do in mind, I'm sure that the picture gallery on his site represented a sort of press kit for him. The fact that the news media are now using those exact pictures - him holding a gun, looking all goth, being all serious and "menacing" - plays right into the premeditated infamy he was trying to achieve in the first place.

Related to this is the entire issue of his space on vampirefreaks.com, which was removed in the early hours of sept. 14, but remains available in cache form from a variety of sources. I've made copies of the journal, the gallery and the pages and pages of comments people posted after his online identity had been revealed. Fake sites have cropped up (of course) and the media are really running with aspects Gill's journal posts. Anything to do with video games is highly reported upon, even though the guy obviously spent much more time chatting online, drinking whiskey, and listening to metal...or so he says. A lot about his online persona rings false - like a last-ditch attempt at a personality that he was trying on in a desperate attempt to find the sense of belonging and community that he was obviously never able to attain. I posted a question out to the aoir list (association of internet researchers) as to how and by whom the journal was actually removed. It seems standard procedure in these cases now to remove any online website, journal, etc. that the killer(s) maintained before their murderous rampage, but I wonder how exactly this decision is made - and whether it's done in an official capacity (of a police investigation) or for corporate reasons (too much traffic, or the site not wanting to be associated with the event). I've received some helpful suggestions from my fellow internet researchers, but would appreciate further tips and comments.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

LonelyGirl15

Ok - I am so slow on the punch with this one, but it's still worth mentioning even if it DID make the media/web rounds LAST week. The subject involves the LonelyGirl15 series of video blogs on YouTube and the surrounding fan frenzy that arose in an attempt to solve the mystery of the origins and motives of its creators (which seemed suspicious from the outset). A number of amateur detectives tracked the site creators and linked it back to a talent agency in California. It now seems that the posts were either all part of an elaborate marketing campaign, or else an experimental art project, though if it's the former the product being advertised (a new movie? a new brand of pink boas and hand puppets?) has not yet revealed itself. What interests me the most about this story is how it was brought to my attention by such a wide variety of sources, all within a few hours of one another (one of which was a youth trend/marketing blog newsletter). Here's some coverage of the story:
Boing Boing, LA Times, New York Magazine, Wikipedia, Apophenia Blog
And here's a link to the lonelygirl15 posts on YouTube

Update: Looks like it's an ad afterall :(

Friday, September 01, 2006

Trials & Tribulations Conference: Update

I will be presenting a paper on my misadventures in securing ethical clearance for my Master's research on online kids games at an upcoming conference in Montreal. From the conference website:

Trials and tribulations: negotiating research methods in cyberspace is a two-day, single stream, interdisciplinary symposium. We aim to raise questions and inspire debate in order to broaden awareness of the various methodologies employed in researching digital spaces across disciplines. In order to facilitate dialogue, there are a limited number of presentation spaces available.

The goal of the symposium is to encourage informal discussion, amongst both presenters and attendees regarding the challenges and solutions present in research surrounding digital culture. By opening the floor to both works in progress and completed papers, we hope to encourage an environment of collaboration.


They've now posted a preliminary program, and it looks like a stellar line up, with quite a strong emphasis on both digital games AND kids/youth online (which just so happen to be my main areas of research, and I therefore couldn't be more pleased).